Belize is a place that I visited only because I was in the general area. Back in 1983 when I used to live in Vancouver Canada, I won a photo contest, in which the prize was a trip for two to Mexico with a week’s accommodation. I figured that since I was already down in Mexico, I may as well visit Belize and Guatemala, two places I knew nothing about. The Lonely Planet guidebooks, whilst being very informative rarely ever slam places no matter how bad they are, thereby allowing the traveller to visit countries without negative preconceptions. Years later I was looking through a Lonely Planet guidebook to Belize and right at the very beginning, Belize City was described as “ramshackle and intimidating”. I went to Belize without a guidebook or any preconceptions. My girlfriend of the time was a blond haired Canadian pain in the rear, henceforth to be known as the “Wretch”. The Wretch was a moderately attractive, totally self-absorbed brat whose raison d’etre was to make my life miserable by despoiling every experience we shared. She was constant hard work.
On the bus into Belize we met three British officers who gave us a bit of a preview of what we were in store for. The standing order for all British army personnel stationed in Belize, who went off base, was that for their own protection, they weren’t to go anywhere in groups of less than six. We were also told about how the Mennonites lived in communities surrounded by high fences topped with barbed wire and patrolled by guard dogs. Apparently the Mennonite’s adherence to Christian values such as “turning the other cheek” and not prosecuting theft or reporting rape, had marked them as easy meat and they too had to travel in large groups for mutual protection.
Another fellow traveller on the bus was a very big guy from New Zealand. The Kiwi was huge, as in really huge, like a gridiron footballer with the pads on huge. As is often the case with big healthy specimens, he was a happy-go-lucky, confident guy. When we got into Belize City the all too familiar gauntlet of touts that await one at bus depots worldwide was in attendance. The atmosphere was stinking hot and humid. The Wretch, Kiwi and I ploughed through the throng until we found a little food stand where we could sit down, have cool drink and get our bearings. A large scarred, scary looking local thug and three of his friends immediately joined us, seating themselves uninvited at our table. We were asked if we had found a place to stay and if we wanted to smoke any of the local weed. They told about these joints called “bases” where we could go and smoke dope and hang out with locals. I knew these guys were trouble so I declined their overtures of “assistance”. The Kiwi was not deterred, quite the contrary, he was intrigued and wanted to go to a “base”. So off the Kiwi backpacker went with the scary people. That left the Wretch and I free to argue and find a place to stay without an entourage of predators.
Rule number one: When you are travelling, don’t let strangers know where you are staying. Particularly scumbags who hang out at transportation hubs.
After we found a fleapit to dump our bags, we argued our way back into the centre of town. We were surprised to come across the Kiwi giant buying a bus ticket, so we went up to him and asked him why he was leaving already. The Kiwi was in a real state of panic. He told us how he went to the base and got stoned with the scary people. He said that at first he wasn’t worried because he felt he had their measure and he was sure he could have mopped the floor with all of them. The trouble was, that more people kept coming in and they were obviously confederates of the scary people. As the number of his new found friends grew, the scary people started to suggest that the Kiwi should give them lots of money. To which the Kiwi bolted out of the base and straight to the bus station to get out of town as quickly as possible. He was totally freaked out.
The “city” in Belize City is a scandalous misuse of the word “city”. From now on I will refer to the place as “Belize Shithole” as this new appellation more accurately describes this stain on the planet.
Belize Shithole in 1983 was a sprawling shantytown populated mainly by the belligerently aggressive descendents of slaves brought over from Africa to log mahogany in the fetid tropical swamps. I’ve read about how slaves were sometimes bred like cattle to make their issue bigger and stronger and this seemed to be the case with the denizens of Belize Shithole. The Belizeans are generally a big healthy lot who have lost their sense of who they are or how they should behave. This goes double for the younger ones. They weren’t Africans any more, nor were they English, Mexican or Carib Indian but they knew they were black and they’d seen how blacks were portrayed on American T.V programs. One of the really criminal things that the American entertainment industry has inflicted on the world is the “jive-ass nigger” stereotype that was ubiquitous on T.V. back then. You know the one, the profane, loud mouthed, garishly dressed, drug-dealing pimp from the ghetto. The older Belizeans spoke with a down-to-earth Caribbean accent. The tragedy of the younger Belizeans I had anything to do with, was that they all seemed to be under the delusion that they were bit players in an episode of the execrable “Beretta”. Typical of the style of conversations I endured was this exchange I had as I was walking down the street with the Wretch:
Huge scary muscular local (HSML)
“Hey man yo wanna buy some peanuts? Dey keep yo pecker up all night!”
“Yo wanna smoke some Belize Breeze (marijuana)?
“Yo feel de riddem of de place and you get riddo yo honky squareness”.
HSML then steps between the Wretch and I and gets right in her face and says:
“Wotcha dooin with that pasty white boy?”
“A Belizean man hold you tight all night!”
“F#%k that shit, it’s too hot!”
The other stereotype that was affected by Belizean youth was that of the Rasta. There were quite few Belizeans who looked and spoke like spaced-out, dread-locked Rastas. Although the Belizean Rastas listened to Bob Marley and regurgitated his sentiments, they were essentially the same as the jive-ass clones in that they wanted to intimidate me from my money and interfere with the Wretch. Nearly every Belizean I met, less than thirty years of age was playing out some kind of unnatural affect and was incapable of conversation beyond their twenty second spruik hustle. I tried scratching the surface only to find nothing of interest. No ideas. No insight. These people were just life support systems for mass media stereotypes.
My money was getting low so I arranged a funds transfer from my bank (the Royal Bank) in Vancouver to the Royal Bank in Belize Shithole. Even though the funds were to be transferred by wire I had to wait for two weeks with the Wretch in what is possibly the worst place on earth I’ve ever visited. I consider myself a bit of a pioneering connoisseur of shitholes, I’ve been to Palembang in Sumatra and Hat Yai in Southern Thailand in the mid seventies, neither place compares in sheer unpleasantness to Belize Shithole.
Every day was an alarming ordeal of intimidation and super heated humidity. Near the markets were belligerent speedboat owners; spruiking trips out to the cays, who got down right antagonistic when we said we didn’t want to go out in their boats. Everyday for two weeks these hustlers would aggressively hassle us, as we had to pass them on the way to the bank to see if our money came. Everyday came with some huge guy walking up to me and a faking a punch to make me flinch. Each day the Wretch would get propositioned right in front of me like I wasn’t even there. It was like the whole town was slapping me in the face and daring me to do something about it.
The entire place had a bad vibe. I even saw a grown man just walk up to a child looking after an orange stall in the marketplace and help himself to the produce, then threaten him with violence when he tried to get the oranges back. No one batted an eyelid, never mind helping the kid. It was all so dog eat dog. People of African decent made up the vast majority of the population of Belize. Many Belizeans culturally identified with African Americans, who as a minority group in the U.S were often victims of racism. The paradox was, that many Belizeans were openly racist. Once as I was walking down the street, I saw a guy, standing at the doorway of a shop, yelling at the top of his voice, “HEY CHINAMAN!” “HEY CHINAMAN!” “GET YOUR YELLOW ASS OUT HERE!” “I WANT SERVICE!” Sure enough, a cowed an old Chinese guy came out to serve. It was sad to watch the guy in the street just bark at the terrified old man as his purchase was made.
One day two German women came running up to us in tears pursued by a couple of the local lads. They were in near hysterics and explained that the guys were harassing them and they were very frightened. When the pursuers saw that the women might have some back up they veered off. The Germans were looking for a place to stay overnight so they could go to the cays the next day. So I took them to the dump we were staying at and got them a room. The Wretch was furious at me for helping them because we had to walk all the way back to where we came from. The wretch once told me she thought helping people and decency were practiced by stupid weak people. Several months after I got back to Vancouver the Germans sent me a letter thanking me and saying what a great place the cays were and how bad Belize Shithole was in comparison. We would’ve gone out to the cays but the bank kept on telling us the money would be coming in the next day or so.
Finally our money arrived and we left for Guatemala straight away. Our stay in Belize had been such a drag and the irony was, that nearly every local who bothered us, told us to make sure that we told other people outside of Belize what a great place it was.
Belize…… a great place…… to leave!